Sunday, April 19, 2009

Officially Volunteers!

Last Tuesday “Nica 49,” as my Peace Corps group is called, (the 49th Peace Corps group in the country) was sworn-in as official volunteers. We are no longer trainees! Our two years of service have now begun. The ceremony was very nice, held in the best hotel in Managua, with all of our host families present. The U.S. Ambassador Robert Callahan was present to lead us through the oath in English, and the Director of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health Dr. Solis was also there to do the oath in Spanish. The Peace Corps Country Director, George Baldino said some wonderful words, talking about the number of children who die each day in the world from things like malnutrition and preventable diseases. His words were sobering, but he told us that the only way we can react to shocking statistics is community by community, person by person. This is why, he told us, we are here as Peace Corps volunteers in Health. These behavior changes and community education are often the most successful when done on an individual basis. The U.S. Ambassador also told us that we are the real face of the United States that Nicaraguans will see and know. We aren’t Hollywood actors – we are real Americans who will exchange our culture with Nicaraguans. The three goals of Peace Corps are: To impart technical skills to countries that request Peace Corps services, for Americans to learn more about other cultures, and for the host country nationals to learn about the U.S.
As I start my service, I will keep these three goals in mind. Part of that, actually, is this blog you are reading. I know that friends and family back home in Alaska, and perhaps in other states and countries may read it, and they might learn a little more about Peace Corps, public service and Nicaragua. I am also participating in a Peace Corps program in which I periodically correspond with an elementary school classroom in the U.S., telling them about my daily life, projects, etc.
Our swearing-in ceremony was bittersweet, since it meant that the twenty volunteers in my group finally had to say goodbye to each other. After three months of training, we have become rather close, and we are each other’s sources of comfort when we’re going through tough times or just need to talk. Now, we are going to be spread out across the country, some volunteers being placed up to 10 hours away from Managua by bus. We will see each other periodically for Peace Corps trainings and conferences, but I was definitely sad to see us all split-up. However, no one is more than a phone call away, or a weekend visit perhaps. We all made the best of swearing-in day; dressing up like it was senior prom, and going out dancing afterwards. It will probably be the last time we get dressed-up for quite a long time.
And so it begins. Another plus: now that I’m officially a volunteer I start accruing my two vacation days/month!

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